I finally did it. I finally finished the FFXIII Trilogy. These games hold a special place for me as I still remember when I watched the first FFXIII trailer back in 2006. I didn't even have Internet at the time, so I had to buy some PS magazines with some DVDs included to keep myself updated with all the news and announcements. I was so excited! At that time I didn't know I had to wait ten years to finally play the game though. During those times I read so many different things about the Trilogy: critics, praises, people who liked it, people who didn't. I was so curious to see if I was going to like these games or not, and now I finally have my own opinion.
Despite the premise though, this post isn't going to be about me rambling whether I enjoyed the Trilogy or not – and I clearly did. Instead it will be focused on Lightning, as I think it's important to address a few things about her character, given the primary role that she has.
Warning: Spoilers on the entire Trilogy, and apologies for language mistakes.

One thing I've realized during the course of the years is that many people don't like Lightning. It's very common in fact to read things like: “She's just a cold and emotionless character with a bitch attitude.” I think this idea comes from the fact that, as she states in LR:FFXIII, she prefers to keep her true feelings hidden.

She's not cold or emotionless. In fact the opposite is true. She's very caring and sweet, but at the same time she's very good at hiding her true self behind a mask of stoicism and, at first glance, indifference. However it's very easy to look beyond that mask to have a grasp of the real Lightning.
One of the most important things in this regard is the connection developed with Hope starting from Chapter 4. It's important because it's the first time in the game where Lightning starts to open herself a little bit, to put her anger aside and to reveal her true nature. Hope decides to follow her to become a stronger person, to leave his fear behind in order to be able to reach his goal. Despite his efforts, Lightning wasn't happy to have him around at first, as he was just being a burden. However, after Hope helps her dealing with Odin, Lightning realizes she was being too hard on him. After all he's only a 14 years old kid who just lost his mother. Therefore she apologizes and promises to tough him up.

The two of them eventually arrive at the Gapra Whitewood, where the game forces the player to take control of Hope as the leader. This is a very important part because it reveals that Lightning starts to genuinely care about him. In fact she gives him tips and suggestions all the time on how to hold a weapon, how to approach an enemy and so on. She goes as far as to give him her knife, the same knife that Serah bought as a present for Lightning's birthday, one of the most precious things she has.
One of the most important factors that made the connection between them possible is the fact that both Lightning and Hope lost part of their families. Lightning understands that pain and anger very well, and so is able to relate to Hope. This is further confirmed in LR:FFXIII, during a secondary mission in Yusnaan. Here Lightning helps a kid who dedicated himself to stealing after he lost his parents. Initially she scolds him, but then she treats him with compassion and understanding, effectively helping him to stop living in the wrong way. Going back to Hope, I think that the common initial dislike for Snow was also a factor that contributed, at least to a certain extent, to their bonding.

The most important point of all this however is in Chapter 7, when Lightning and Hope arrive in Palumpolum. As they are immediately surrounded by the Sanctum's army, Lightning is ready to sacrifice her own life to allow Hope to escape:
“Start running. I'll keep 'em busy.”
“You survive.”
This short scene is incredibly important. Despite being usually undermined by Snow and Fang coming to the rescue, its meaning is still there. In fact even though it's debatable whether Lightning would have been able to survive alone against the Sanctum's army or not, in my opinion it's pretty clear that she was ready to give up her life to save Hope. This is no small thing. To Lightning sacrificing her own life means to give up the goal to save Serah. It means not to be able to see her sister again, to throw away everything she stood for for the past years. Without a single moment of hesitation, Lightning was ready to give up everything to save Hope. The gravity of this decision shows how much she cares about him in a genuine way. This is the first time that Lightning shows this type of concern for a person that is not Serah, and it's also the first time she completely shows her true self.

The importance of that moment is further increased after taking a look at the flashbacks disseminated in Chapter 5, 6 and 7. These chapters are where the game reveals information about what happened when Serah told Lightning that she was a l'Cie, about how both Snow and Lightning reacted and what they did to protect her.
We know that Lightning swore on her parents' grave to take care of her sister, to be strong for her, to protect her. She dedicated her entire life to this end, in my opinion she even enrolled into the army to be sure to defend Serah in case something happened, and also to secure the area where they lived. In her mind, Serah becoming a l'Cie probably meant that she had failed to protect her sister, that she had failed herself, her parents and the duty she committed herself to. I think this is the reason why Lightning initially refuses to believe Serah's words: the fear to lose everything she fought for since her parents' death.

After realizing her mistake, she immediately rushes to save Serah. Unfortunately she is too late though, as her sister is already inside the Vestige. Lightning blames herself for what happened, and therefore boards the train for the Purge to try to amend for not helping Serah when she needed it the most. This leads to the beginning of the game, where Lightning forces her way to the Vestige together with Sazh. At a first glance it may seem that she was being very cold with him: she definitely showed no signs of interest in helping him, and tried to leave him behind. While this is true, there is an explanation for her actions.
First of all she wasn't being cold. She was angry as hell. Angry at Snow for failing to protect Serah despite all his big talk, but mostly angry at herself for doing nothing. I think that in this regard Lightning felt inferior to Snow, a person she didn't even like to begin with. Because even though Snow failed to protect Serah, at least he tried. He did everything he could: he trusted her, supported her, and helped her constantly, no matter what the problem was. Lightning on the other hand didn't, therefore the anger, the blame, and the guilt. This also leads to the punching scene in Chapter 3, where Lightning simply couldn't take anymore of that “I'll protect Serah” bullcrap that Snow kept throwing at her all the time.

So. Considering everything that was going on, it's not surprising that Lightning didn't care about Sazh in that situation. Besides, he wasn't exactly helping her. More likely he was just following her around to avoid getting killed. Plus it's important to remember that the two of them met just before boarding the train and only exchanged a few words. I wouldn't say they were complete strangers, but I think my point is clear.
After Chapter 7, even though the focus (pun intended) of the story shifts towards Fang and Vanille, Lightning is able to cast her anger aside almost completely and to accept Snow as a comrade, overcoming her dislike together with her fear of him not being a suitable husband for Serah.

Now let's move on to FFXIII-2. Even though in this game Lightning could almost be considered a secondary character, there is one thing worth noticing. And I'm talking about the striking resemblance between her and Caius. Despite being at odds, these two characters share many similarities in terms of mindset, abilities and goals, making them incredibly similar to each other. First of all they both love one person (Serah and Yeul). As time goes by, this feeling almost becomes an obsession that drives them to do anything they can to help/save/protect their loved ones. In fact, in FFXIII-2 Lightning herself chooses to go into Crystal Stasis (therefore losing the battle against Caius) just to preserve her sister's memories and soul. In LR:FFXIII she gives up her humanity and accepts to become the servant of Bhunivelze in exchange of a slight chance to have Serah back.
Caius goes even further, as he doesn't care about anyone else but Yeul, and so he's ready to destroy the entire time lines, allowing the Chaos to swallow the world. In LR:FFXIII, after another battle with Lightning, he decides to remain in the dying world, just to keep Yeul company and to keep watching over her. Furthermore, he shows no concerns over what Yeul may think of his actions. Both throw everything away just for one person, though Caius is simply more radical and extreme in what he does. In other words, I think that Caius is exactly what Lightning would be as a “villain”. This is also confirmed by the colors used to represent these characters, pink for Lightning and purple for Caius.

On top of all this, these two are the perfect nemesis for each other. An important factor in this regard is the presence of Caius' Eidolon, Bahamut. Throughout the FF games, Bahamut is renown for its sheer power and destruction, using absolute force to crush its enemies. Most of its techniques resemble this type of combat, and Caius himself uses a giant sword to wipe the battlefield of everyone standing in his way. On the other hand Lightning can summon Odin, which uses sword and shield and, at least in the FFXIII Trilogy, has a combat style based on agility and quick attacks, thus matching Lightning's own fighting style pretty well. The important part here is the shield that Lightning uses. In the first FFXIII she only had a sword, but in FFXIII-2 her equipment changes. The shield is a symbol of protection, something that represents Lightning's will and duty to protect the time lines from destruction. This aspect extends to Odin as well, as it can use a technique called Ullr's Shield, which turns to be the perfect defense against Bahamut's powerful attacks.

The comparison between Caius and Lightning however doesn't stop here. In fact, Lightning's obsession for Serah grows ever stronger in LR:FFXIII. This game creates a very interesting dynamic, since the Saviour is deprived of all her feelings and emotions in order to accomplish her holy mission. This new condition makes her even more close to Caius in terms of what she's willing to do. I remember Caius saying (referring to Yeul): “I don't want to please her. I want to save her.”
In the same way, after saving Dajh's soul, Lightning tells Lumina: “Best intentions be damned. I don't care if Serah knows what I'm trying to do. I'll save her. Even if she hates me for it.”
This clearly shows that Lightning has reached the same point as Caius: like him she doesn't care about what Serah may think of her actions, she just wants her back no matter what.

Speaking of the Savior, it's important to understand a few things about this new Lightning. First of all we know that Bhunivelze took away her feelings and emotions to “help” her accomplishing her mission without worries. At the beginning of Day 8, it's also revealed that he took Serah's soul away from Lightning and messed up with her memories. By doing this he “created” a new person, the perfect servant to do his will. I'm saying this because the Saviour is not Lightning. Or, to put it in a better way, she is not the Lightning we used to know. In my opinion one of the most important aspects that defines us as humans is our past, our memories and the ability to evoke certain feelings or emotions related to them. This is exactly what the Saviour lacks. She is incapable of feeling even the slightest emotion and she can't remember one of the most defining moments of her life: the decision to become an eternal witness to preserve Serah's soul and memories within herself.
It is said in the game that the Saviour transcends humanity, and is more close to a deity. However that is not the case. The Saviour is not a human nor a god, she's less than both. She's nothing more than a shell of a broken Lightning, chained and trapped by her own obsession. Forced to obey the orders of a being who manipulates her for its own purposes.

Thankfully she's not alone, as there is one character who constantly watches over her. And I'm talking about Lumina. Even tough she seems evil at first, there are many hints that actually reveal the opposite way before the end of the game. First of all she helps Sazh by giving him a coffer to put all the soul fragments that he needs in order to help his son. She's genuinely concerned about the fate of both of them and therefore tries to help. There are also a couple of secondary missions in Luxerion, where the NPCs mention how Lumina tries to help them reaching their goals. And even though the results were not what they were hoping for, they still told Lightning that they wanted to say thanks to Lumina for doing her best. And finally, at the beginning of day 8, Lumina is the one who makes Lightning remember her lost memories.
It's later revealed that Lumina is the embodiment of all those feelings that Claire tossed away to become Lightning, the weak part of herself that could have been an hindrance. And it's ironic to realize how Lightning and Lumina are the complete opposite of each other. Lightning is usually calm, composed and overall stoic. Lumina on the other hand is so outspoken and extrovert, always ready to provoke Lightning with jokes and riddles, saying that she doesn't understand a single thing.

Thanks to Lumina, Lightning is able to completely reverse the deal made with Bhunivelze and starts breaking her chains. And finally, when the two of them merge during the final sequences of the game, that moment is when Claire Farron finally comes back. No more Lightning and no more Saviour, but rather herself.
Then she remembers everything that she did, starting with the journey to save Serah, and realizes how much help she needed to finally be herself again. That little, single tear at the end represents this new awareness along with the relief that now both Claire and Serah are finally safe and can be together.